When anybody talks about “brain washing,” I automatically put tongue in cheek. At least I did until something happened way back in the 1970s to change my mind. Let me explain.
My husband, Van, and I had just moved to a small mobile home on five-acres near Carson City. I was busy unpacking and he was outside putting up fencing for our horse Jubilee. We’d found out early just how friendly everybody in our new local was, having met a dozen or so neighbors on a walk the day before. It wasn’t a surprise to either of us when a young girl came riding up on her horse and introduced herself as, let’s just say. Betty. She was about six or seven years younger than Van or me and told us that she and her husband Bill lived about two miles away. She worked at a supermarket in Carson City and he was a musician who played locally.
Van soon found work at Meyers Hardware in Carson City and was off work on Mondays and Tuesdays. I found a job doing abstracting and title searching for a couple of different title companies Wednesdays through Fridays. We looked forward to having Mondays and Tuesdays to relax. It was a great surprise to find that our new friend Betty was also off on the same days we were home.
Later on, Betty finally invited Van and me to her home for some reason I’ve long since forgotten. Anyway, she was late getting home from work and Bill invited us in to wait. Van and I sat down on two stools facing the kitchen. Something was cooking on the stove and Bill was busy getting out a plate and utensils. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a container of butter. I think my mouth fell open when I saw what was inside that refrigerator. There was only the butter, a bottle of ketchup and maybe one jar of mustard and absolutely nothing else. No milk, no lettuce, no leftover items, nothing in sight. Then Bill proceeded to drain what was cooking in the pot — which turned out to be what looked like a couple of potatoes — buttered them and while standing in front of us ate the entire dish. Bill told us to wait for Betty since he had to go to work.
I’d often remarked privately to Van that Betty looked terribly thin. Now I began to ponder what Bill’s cooking exhibition meant. Van and I learned, early on, that Bill ran the house and finances. After he left, many of the kitchen cabinets remained open. The only other food I could see was a tiny can of tuna, a small box of cereal and a container of sugar. It was a startling observation. Just what was going on with the food situation in this house, and was Bill deliberately trying to starve his wife?
Just then two cars drove into the driveway, one with Betty and a man we didn’t know and another with another stranger. It turned out that Betty had fainted at work and her boss was bringing her home. The other man was there to drive him back to the store. We got Betty into bed and outside her boss; who we will call Jim; told Van that he thought she was just hungry. He had given her some juice and crackers to get her color back. However, he was very worried. So were we.
Now the story really gets strange. A couple of nights later, Bill came home and brought along a co-worker, a woman musician. He told Betty he wanted to have two wives and would she accept this change in their lives? Folks, I’m not joking, this really happened.
Fortunately, Betty came to us so confused and frightened that we interfered by calling her mother and telling her all that had been happening. Two days later Betty’s mother arrived with enough food to fill the cabinets and refrigerator. She then angrily tossed Bill’s clothes and assorted belongings out into the yard and told him to get lost, along with his girlfriend. Afterward, she changed locks on the house, but the best was yet to come.
A couple of years later Betty — who had sold her property and moved away — came to visit us. She brought along her old boss. While with us, they decided to get married with Van and I as their witnesses. We were happy to oblige.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.